HBO Max has confirmed that one of its interns was behind the strange email mistakenly sent out to subscribers on Thursday evening, prompting an outpouring of support on Twitter as users came out to share their own horror stories of workplace screw-ups in solidarity.
The email went viral after confused subscribers first noticed it in their inboxes shortly before 9 p.m. ET and began sharing screenshots online. The subject line read “Integration Test Email #1″ and the message contained just a single line of text: “This template is used by integration tests only.”
The bizarre vagueness attached to such a big industry name made the email ripe for internet fame. Memes quickly sprouted. Jokes about “Integration Test” being a new HBO Max series made the rounds. Mostly, though, people were just curious to know what happened, which the company clarified in a tweet about an hour later:
“We mistakenly sent out an empty test email to a portion of our HBO Max mailing list this evening,” HBO Max confirmed on its HBOMaxHelp Twitter account. “We apologize for the inconvenience, and as the jokes pile in, yes, it was the intern. No, really. And we’re helping them through it.”
Blaming the intern only endeared the meme further. The topic started trending on Twitter as thousands of users offered their sympathies and shared their own embarrassing job snafus. Examples included accidentally powering off every device during a laser experiment at MIT, taking Spotify offline around the world, and who could forget that time everyone in Hawaii got an alert about an incoming ballistic missile that turned out to be a false alarm? Even Monica Lewinsky, who became a household name after her internship during Bill Clinton’s tenure in the Oval Office, reached out on Twitter Friday to offer words of encouragement:
“Dear intern, it gets better. ♥️”
Some users went so far as to claim the intern did HBO Max a favor by drumming up a ton of positive social media buzz that wouldn’t have existed if not for their mistake. And I mean, they kinda have a point; it’s an effective distraction from the technical difficulties some HBO Max users have been reporting in recent weeks.
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The overwhelming sentiment on Twitter was clear: Hey, we’ve all been there. We’ve reached out to HBO Max to learn more about the fate of this intern (it would a huge PR blow to fire the internet’s darling of the week after all this!) and will update this blog when we hear back.
Finding a new podcast you actually like is easier said than done. It’s a task that requires time, effort, and a good chunk of your attention. Spotify wants to make this tedious process easier and is betting that podcast discovery technology developed by a startup will help its users find and get hooked on new shows.
The company announced on Thursday that it had acquired the podcast discovery platform Podz, a startup that developed a so-called “audio newsfeed” that features 60-second clips from different podcasts. Here’s where the technology comes in: Instead of simply reproducing the clips chosen by podcast creators, Podz uses a machine learning model to select clips of shows’ best moments. This allows users to preview a variety of podcasts in minutes rather than listening to entire 30- or 60-minute shows.
Spotify said that combining Podz with its 2.6 million podcast repertoire, learnings from its previous work in music discovery, and current investments in podcast recommendation will allow it to take podcast discovery to the next level. Altogether, the company maintains that it will be easier for users to find shows they like and for podcast creators to build a fan base.
“Spotify has had machine learning experts focused on improving audio discovery for almost a decade, but there is more work to be done,” the company said in a news announcement. “We believe that Podz’ technology will complement and accelerate Spotify’s focused efforts to drive discovery, deliver listeners the right content at the right time, and accelerate growth of the category worldwide.”
According to TechCrunch, Podz’s machine learning model was trained on more than 100,000 hours of audio and considered input from journalists and audio editors. Back in February, the outlet reported that Podz had raised $2.5 million in pre-seed funding. Besides receiving investments from venture capital firms like M13 and Canaan Partners, it also had backers like Katie Couric and Paris Hilton. (For reference, both Couric and Hilton have podcasts).
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Spotify did not specify how much it had paid to acquire Podz.
The acquisition is the latest move in the battle to monetize podcasting. In April, Spotify announced its paid subscriptions platform, which allows creators to offer subscriptions to their shows. Interestingly, Spotify said that it would not charge podcasters to use the platform for the first two years and would only expect them to assume the payment transaction fees. In 2023, though, Spotify will begin to charge a 5% fee to use the platform.
This stands in contrast to Apple, which will take 30% of subscription fees for podcasts during the first year and 15% in the following years. Apple launched in-app podcast subscriptions this month.
Spotify is integrating Podz’s technology into its platform and said users can expect to see elements of it before the end of the year.
Following news that Peloton’s API exposed private user account data, McAfee’s Advanced Threat Research team says the Bike+ had a dangerous flaw that could enable hackers to invisibly and remotely gain control of bikes.
McAfee says its researchers began poking around Peloton’s systems once the workout-at-home trend took off during the pandemic. In the process, they found that the Bike+ software wasn’t verifying whether the device’s bootloader was unlocked, enabling them to upload a custom image that wasn’t meant for Peloton hardware. After downloading an official Peloton update package, the researchers were then able to modify Peloton’s actual boot image and gain root access to the bike’s software. The Android Verified Boot process wasn’t able to detect that the image had been tampered with.
Or put more simply, a hacker could use a USB key to upload a fake boot image file that grants them access to a bike remotely without a user ever knowing. That hacker can then install and run programs, modify files, harvest login credentials, intercept encrypted internet traffic, or spy on users through the bike’s camera and microphone.
This vulnerability may not sound all that serious for home users, as it requires physical access to the Bike+ to pull off. However, McAfee says that a bad actor could load the malware at any point during construction, at a warehouse, or in the delivery process. Peloton bikes are also popular fixtures at gyms and fitness centers in hotels and apartment buildings—an area that the company is keen to expand in. Peloton dropped $420 million to acquire Precor in December, and a big reason why is that Precor had an extensive commercial network that includes hotels, corporate campuses, colleges, and apartment complexes.
Peloton reportedly patched the issue on June 4 during the disclosure window, and there are no indications the vulnerability has been exploited in the wild. The company also confirmed that the flaw was also found on the Peloton Tread, which was recalled last month along with the Peloton Tread+.
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This is usually the point where we tell you to go and make sure you have the most recent firmware update. That said, it’s not super easy to tell whether your Peloton has the most recent update, especially since the company doesn’t publicize software release notes. It’s an omission that Peloton should perhaps fix, considering how popular connected fitness has become in the past year. In cases like these, it’s a good idea to enable automatic updates if possible. Another thing to keep in mind is Peloton prohibits users from downloading other apps, such as Netflix or Spotify, onto its bikes and treadmills. (Though there are ways to get around that.) So, if you ever happen to be on a public Peloton and it has other apps… you probably shouldn’t use it.
Apple is launching podcast subscriptions next week, according to an email from Apple to podcasters obtained by The Verge. Beginning June 15, you’ll be able to pay to subscribe to select shows and networks to receive content early and ad-free.
The podcast subscription service was announced at Apple’s Spring Loaded event back in April, with initial plans to launch in May. The launch was delayed so after issues with Apple Podcasts Connect, the analytics portal where podcasters submit shows for approval, were discovered. Apple also noted it would take care of a few other back-end issues, including “additional enhancements” to its Library interface.
The new service will let podcast hosts and networks set prices and perks, including early and ad-free feeds, and offer bonus content. Of course, Apple will make some money off this, keeping 30% of the subscription fees in the first year and 15% in subsequent years. The fee cut after a few years is an incentive from Apple to get podcasters on board and keep them in the ecosystem.
Subscriptions have become an excellent way for supporting podcasters. Full disclosure: I am a podcaster, and I host two shows on two podcast networks that offer ad-free tiers. Services like Stitcher have offered podcast memberships and bonus content with podcast networks like Earwolf for years, while Patreon seems to have cornered the market for fans-only feeds.
Spotify also announced it would adopt paid podcast subscriptions, and it’s already pushing through a setlist of indie shows and upcoming titles from NPR. There’s a waitlist available for podcasters, and Spotify won’t take a cut for the first two years, though you’ll have to pay transaction fees. (Apple also requires a $20 annual fee.) Spotify’s solution doesn’t allow people to subscribe within the app. Instead, it requires navigating to an external webpage on Anchor, the micro-podcasting service it bought in 2018.
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The battle is on to monetize podcasting and do it in a way that makes it easy for people to click and pay. Apple’s in-app podcast subscription service isn’t the first to come to market, but its existence helps normalize the idea of paying podcasters for content. It’ll be interesting to see if more independent creators flock to Spotify, which has been pushing podcasts more fervently along with its algorithm-driven playlists. Or if Apple’s legacy as the purveyor of podcasts—it helped coined the term, didn’t it?—will make people stick with it because of the promise of better discoverability.
In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, a tech vendor named Fastly experienced a major outage that inadvertently broke some of the biggest sites on the web. And now, we know why. In a blog post published late yesterday, Fastly engineering VP Nick Rockwell explained the company “experienced a global outage due to an undiscovered software bug,” that surfaced when a single customer just… reconfigured his internet connection.
Per Rockwell’s blog, Fastly issued a software update in mid-May that accidentally came pre-packaged with the bug that could be triggered under specific circumstances. In the early morning hours on June 8th, one of Fastly’s customers unwittingly put these circumstances into motion while rejiggering their internet connection via a “valid configuration change.” Before they knew it, 85% of Fastly’s network started returning errors, sites stopped loading, and global pandemonium ensued.
Rockwell explained that Fastly noticed the global outage “within one minute,” and then made quick work of patching up the issue. “Within 49 minutes, 95% of our network was operating as normal,” he wrote. “This outage was broad and severe, and we’re truly sorry for the impact to our customers and everyone who relies on them.”
It turns out that’s a lot of people. Along with companies like Cloudflare and Akami, Fastly is one of the so-called “content delivery network” (CDN) giants that hold up vast swaths of the internet by letting sites store their data within their proprietary clouds. Storing data like this doesn’t only mean that content gets to your browser faster, but it also means that more people can access that content at once.
At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. But tech hiccups crop up allthetime, and CDN’s aren’t immune. Back in 2019, Cloudflare went through a similar outage to the one Fastly went through this week, inadvertently taking platforms like Dropbox, Medium, and Soundcloud along with it. In 2017, a four-hour AWS shortage knocked out sites like Netflix and Spotify. When the handful of tech companies that underpin the internet are just as fallible as, well, literally every other tech company, you have to wonder if that power consolidation is a good thing.
In a bid to become the most Instagrammable music service, Spotify announced several new personalized playlists and features. They include the “Only You” in-app experience, similar to the year-end Wrapped playlist, and a beta feature where you can create an algorithm-infused playlist between you and a friend.
You can try out Only You right now, provided the Spotify app on your smartphone is up to date. The shareable story walks you through the latest Spotify has learned about your streaming behavior over the last six months. It starts with your music horoscope, detailing your Sun, Moon, and Rising as the bands and artists you’ve listened to the most. It’ll tell you which artists would make it to your dinner party, which ones demonstrate your “unique” genre pairings, and the years from which you listen to the most music. Spotify will also let you know if it thinks you’re an early bird or a night owl, plus which combination of music and podcasts “sets your listening apart” from the rest of the populace.
If you decide you want more interaction with friends, there’s a beta feature called Blend, which enables you to combine your tastes with another to create a dynamic playlist. It works similar to the Release Radar and other related playlists aggregating songs weekly based on what you were listening to.
Spotify is also launching a cutesy way to see how the algorithm categorizes you as a fan. For instance, if you happen to fall into the category of Doja Cat listeners who relax to bellowing whale sounds, Spotify will serve you another shareable graphic with the stats. The company refers to this particular feature as “celebrating creators and their fandoms,” but at its core, it’s another look into how the algorithm categorizes you.
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Looking at my own Only You readout, I can see how it stacked the varying Venn diagrams of genres to attempt to classify me as a listener. My Moon and Rising artists, for instance, include space music as my “emotional” genre (Moon) and a generalized version of The Wheels On the Bus as my most recent discovery (Rising). My Sun sign was my favorite synthwave band. In essence, all the algorithm did was point out that I have trouble sleeping and I recently had a kid who enjoys music at bath time.
Spotify has managed to carve a niche for itself as a social media-friendly streaming service, helped in part by how well the algorithm can read a person’s tastes. It’s been successful enough that the personalized summary served up to its users at the end of every year is now a meme we expect to see sprout up around the holiday season. It’s betting on it as an edge as it finds ways to compete against other streaming services, namely Apple Music and YouTube Music, which took over for Google Play Music and offers video as part of its packaged deal.
The new personalization features are undoubtedly fun to use. They come at the cost of finely tuned data collection—something Spotify pegs as an “intelligent” algorithm based on listeners’ moods but feels more like emotional surveillance. Spotify presents the Only You feature with the context that it “gets” who you are, helping to solidify it as the app you launch to play what you need to hear. What it’s getting is that I’m a tired parent who has trouble falling asleep and wishes she could go to concerts again. The algorithm works!
Only You will be available as a standalone feature on the main Spotify page through the end of the month. Then it’ll be accessible through the Made for You hub. You can opt-out of some of the algorithm-feeding features by listening to Spotify with a private session or ticking on the Privacy feature in the Spotify settings.
The Huawei Watch 3 is here, and as far as smartwatches go, it looks pretty good on paper. It’s just that, on the heels of Samsung giving up on Tizen and partnering with Google for a unified wearable platform, this doesn’t feel like an auspicious time to launch a flagship smartwatch running a proprietary OS.
To be clear, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with this smartwatch. The Watch 3 (which will cost £349.99 in the UK when it launches on June 18) has nearly everything you’d expect from a modern wearable aside from FDA-cleared ECGs. Design-wise, it looks like contemporary Android-friendly smartwatches, with a circular 1.43-inch AMOLED display and a rotating crown. There are sporty and “classic” versions, as well as a more premium Watch 3 Pro (£499.99) that has a metal strap, longer battery life, and better GPS. For health features, it boasts SpO2 sensors, continuous heart rate monitoring, and a new temperature sensor—something that’s still relatively uncommon as far as smartwatches go. It’s swim-proof and supports reverse wireless charging. You even get 4G LTE connectivity, built-in GPS, and, supposedly, voice and video call support. Plus, even with cellular on, Huawei’s promising three days of battery life—14 days if you’re willing to forgo LTE. There’s a proprietary app store, a digital assistant called Celia, a handwashing timer, and gesture controls similar to those introduced on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 and Apple’s forthcoming Assistive Touch.
In all fairness, there’s not much else Huawei could’ve done. The Huawei ban has cut the company’s access to Google’s Android operating system and Google Mobile Services. Without Google, Huawei was backed into a corner, and Harmony OS is the natural result. It’s just that we’ve seen this playbook before and frankly, when it comes to smartwatches, it hasn’t worked.
The Cautionary Tale of Tizen OS
At Google I/O last month, Samsung officially threw in the towel on Tizen, its proprietary smartwatch OS, in favor of a “unified” version of WearOS. At the same event, Fitbit CEO James Park hinted that its future premium smartwatches would run on this unified platform as well—which raises questions as to how long FitbitOS will continue to exist. The Fitbit thing makes sense. Google did, after all, plunk down $2.1 billion to acquire the company and the deal finally went through earlier this year. Tizen? That’s a whole different story.
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In 2014, Samsung moved its smartwatches off Wear OS (then Android Wear) to its own proprietary system. Given that Wear OS has had numerous ups and downs, Tizen OS was one of the main benefits of picking a Samsung watch over one that ran Wear OS. Tizen was snappy, and Samsung watches could do things that other Wear OS watches simply couldn’t. Samsung’s smartwatches were also a way for the company to push its ecosystem of products, promising the same kind of seamlessness that Apple promises with its lineup. Except few people cared about Bixby, Samsung Pay was limited to Galaxy phones, and it was a major problem that the watches’ best features weren’t available to all Android users. And the real kicker? Tizen’s third-party app offerings simply weren’t there, even though Samsung did its damnedest to convince developers otherwise.
You can’t help but look at Tizen’s trajectory and wonder if Huawei isn’t doing the exact same thing with Harmony OS. It’ll probably boil down to two things: third-party app support, and whether Huawei can convince Android users to ditch a well-established platform just because Wear OS is going through some growing pains. (Hell will freeze over before it wins over iOS users when the Apple Watch is the dominant smartwatch out there, even if it’s only available to iPhone users.)
Why Would Huawei Succeed Where Others Failed?
Samsung couldn’t hack it when it came to third-party app support, but that might not be the case for Huawei. Its App Gallery, for example, isn’t lacking for apps the way the Tizen app store was. Supposedly, Huawei’s App Gallery has over 530 million active monthly users. Deezer, Lufthansa, TikTok, Tidal, Adidas, and some other recognizable names are on there—and Huawei is aggressively courting developers outside of China to sign on. Major apps like Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, and Facebook aren’t available, though there are APK mirrors and other workarounds. And that’s for Huawei’s phones. It’s unclear how robust its wearable app offerings will be, but the only recognizable app logo presented for the Watch 3 was… the Emirates airline. This might fly in China, where people aren’t as attached to Google’s apps—but it’s a big question whether this watch will have broader international appeal. Especially if Samsung’s forthcoming Wear OS watches (and future Fitbit watches) knock it out of the park.
All this also applies to whatever ecosystem of gadgets Huawei’s trying to build out now with Harmony OS. It might succeed in markets where Google doesn’t have such a vise grip, but this late in the game? It’s going to be an uphill battle to convince Western markets to ditch all the Apple, Google Nest, or Amazon Echo gadgets they’ve already invested in.
Look, I’m not saying the Huawei Watch 3 and Watch 3 Pro will be bad. Huawei’s previous smartwatches were decent offerings, albeit they could be a pain to get for U.S. consumers. (Personally, I thought the Huawei Watch 2 was the best Android Wear 2.0 watch back in 2017.) So long as the Watch 3 doesn’t go and pull a OnePlus Watch debacle, it’s got impressive enough specs to be a good Android-friendly, Wear OS alternative. We just haven’t seen a successful alternate platform to Android or iOS thus far—and not for lack of trying. Companies like Samsung and Microsoft aren’t bit players. They have deep coffers, international brand recognition, and die-hard fans—but neither succeeded in unseating Android-based platforms. Samsung and Microsoft also didn’t have to contend with trade wars. True, it’s not like Huawei has other options so long as this ban is in place, but the odds don’t seem stacked in its favor.
Hot on the heels of recent Apple Watch app overhauls from Spotify and Deezer, Tidal announced today that it’s finally bringing its app to the most popular smartwatch. And yes, you can download offline playlists for untethered playback.
Tidal has instructions on how to get started on its website, but the process is simple. All you have to do is be a Tidal subscriber, download the Apple Watch app, and then link your accounts via your web browser. A Tidal subscription starts at $10 per month, and Tidal Masters, its lossless Hi-Fi streaming tier, is $20. You’ll also need at least an Apple Watch Series 3 running watchOS 7.2 or later. Tidal has been available on Samsung’s smartwatches, but otherwise hasn’t had a presence on any other wearables.
While Tidal’s calling card is Hi-Fi audio streaming, it’s unlikely that will transfer to the Apple Watch app. For starters, Hi-Fi streaming is pretty limited over Bluetooth and wireless earbuds—which is how you’d stream Tidal content on the Apple Watch. Gizmodo asked Tidal to confirm whether HiFi streaming on the Apple Watch would be possible, but did not immediately receive a response. Another indicator is that when Apple announced its own upcoming lossless audio streaming, it came with the caveat that its AirPods Max and AirPods Pro would be unable to support the format.
Even so, this is a move that makes a lot of sense. Both Apple and Spotify will be adding Hi-Fi streaming to their respective services this year, meaning Tidal’s going to have to differentiate itself if it wants to keep subscribers from jumping ship. Adding an Apple Watch app isn’t all that unique, but its omission would be glaring considering that Spotify and Deezer just added offline playlist capability. This way, Tidal is at least on par with its competitors.
Also unclear is whether Tidal plans to also release an app for the forthcoming unified Wear-Tizen platform Google and Samsung announced last week. Gizmodo asked Tidal for comment but did not receive a response before publication. That said, Tidal might have an easier go of the process, as it already has a Tizen-based app that supports offline playback. That could be clutch for Tidal, as right now, it’s slim pickings when it comes to music streaming apps for Android wearables. The current Wear OS Spotify app is a glorified remote, and Google shut down the Play Music app months ago. And while there’s an Apple Watch version of the YouTube Music app, that won’t come out for the new Wear platform until later this year. Being the first music streaming app to support the new Wear platform might give Tidal a much-needed edge, but only time will tell.
Spotify users with Apple Watches can breathe a sigh of relief. You can finally, finally download playlists, albums, and podcasts onto the watch for offline use.
In its official blog, Spotify said it’s rolling out offline playlists starting today. All a user has to do is select the music or podcast they want to listen to, press the three dots, and then hit “Download to Apple Watch.” A little green arrow will then appear next to the fully downloaded content. This update also brings Siri support for Spotify on the watch using voice commands such as, “Hey Siri, play my Discover Weekly Playlist on Spotify.” (You just have to remember to add the “on Spotify” part.)
That said, there are a few caveats. To get offline playlists, you have to have an Apple Watch Series 3 or later, running at least watchOS 6. However, Spotify recommends running watchOS 7.1 or later for the best experience. The watch also needs a cellular or wifi connection, and this ability is only available for Spotify Premium subscribers. On top of that, you’ll have to download the latest version of Spotify on both your iPhone and the watch itself. Still, huzzah!
The Spotify app on the Apple Watch has had a long, bumpy journey. While the first Apple Watch was released in 2015, it wasn’t until 2018 that Spotify created an app for the smartwatch. Unfortunately, the app was nothing more than a glorified remote. Users who wanted offline playlists for phone-free activities were forced to either switch to Apple Music, find another smartwatch, or just give up and carry their phones with them. This changed somewhat late last year when Spotify began rolling out the ability to stream music onto the Apple Watch.
Previously, the only wearable platforms that supported offline Spotify playlists were Samsung’s Tizen OS—a rare win for Tizen’s limited third-party app ecosystem—and Garmin. However, along with today’s news, Spotify also announced during Google I/O earlier this week that the new unified Wear platform would also get offline music and podcasts. This is another major win, as the Wear OS version of Spotify was also a glorified remote and Google shut down the Google Play Music app earlier this year. However, unlike the Apple Watch version, it’ll be a bit before this functionality comes to Wear since the new platform hasn’t been released just yet. All in all, this is great news for anyone and everyone with a smartwatch.
Spotify is partnering with Storytel, a Sweden-based audiobook streaming service, to integrate its library with Spotify’s platform later this year, the companies announced Thursday.
Storytel is one of the first major publishers to take advantage of Spotify’s Open Access Platform, an initiative announced last month that aims to give creators new ways to monetize their content and grow their audiences. Storytel offers more than 500,000 audiobooks in 25 countries and competes with Amazon’s audiobook service, Audible.
Once the integration is live, users with linked accounts can listen to Storytel’s library on Spotify, though they’ll still need to have a Storytel subscription. So all in all, it’s one less app cluttering up your phone, but the same number of monthly fees leaving your bank account. Unlike Audible’s credit-based system where you pay by the book, Storytel charges its subscribers a flat monthly fee for unlimited access to its library. The platform currently has about 1.6 million subscribers and is working to expand its audiobook catalog to more countries, Storytel founder and CEO Jonas Tellander told Reuters.
“Partnering with Spotify will make amazing audiobook experiences and exciting authorships easier than ever to access for our customers, while we will also be tapping into the opportunity of reaching new audiences who are on Spotify today, but have not yet experienced the magic of audiobooks,” Tellander said in a press release Thursday.
In the same press release, Spotify outlined plans to continue its aggressive expansion into all things audio, no doubt to keep in step with competitor Apple. Recently, Spotify rolled out its paid subscription platform for podcast creators to rival that of the iPhone maker.
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“It is Spotify’s goal to be the singular platform for all audio: music, podcasts, live conversations, and now via this partnership, audiobooks,” said global head of studios Courtney Holt on Thursday.
As for its Open Access Platform, Spotify said audiobooks are just one new form of content that’s making its way to users. The company noted it will have more details about additional partnerships and widespread access to the program later this year.